I first arrived on campus in the spring of 2014, and I was the only international student on the volleyball team and the only freshman in my recruiting class to enroll early. Jerritt Elliott, the head coach of the Texas women’s volleyball program, had recruited me from my home in Croatia, and I had no idea what to expect from my new, American home.
To say that I experienced culture shock would be an understatement. Initially, I was under the impression that knowing English would make the transition easier. What I soon came to learn is that I did not speak a word of “American”—I still have no idea what Khat Bell was saying to me for the first three months of our interaction. The food, the customs, the omnipresent politeness—it was all so new.
But right away, my fellow Longhorns did their best to make me feel at home. Sometime in that first semester, Nicole Dalton, one of the upperclassman on the team, sent me a text out of the blue asking if I needed anything from the store. As every freshmen living in the dorms knows, you always need something, and I couldn’t believe she had thought about me, that she was looking out for me. When Nicole showed up at my door an hour or so later with apple juice and snacks, it felt like Christmas.
On the court and in the gym, my teammates were just as inspiring. During spring training that first semester, we capped a two-hour grueling workout session with bear crawls. I hate bear crawls. Naturally, I was dragging, suffering immensely and questioning every life choice I made that led me to that moment as I tried to finish our required reps. In the midst of my misery, I lifted my head and saw my teammate Tiffany Baker crouch down and start bear crawling right alongside me, even though she had finished her reps several minutes before.
Before I came to Texas, I had this idea of a leader as being someone older and wiser than me, an untouchable authority figure whose word is the law. My teammates taught me about a different kind of leader—the caring and attentive kind. The empathetic kind. It’s not about being the first or the oldest or the loudest. It’s about making sure people know that you’re there for them. It’s about having their back when they face adversity and being by their side as they go through some of the toughest and most challenging moments of their lives. Yes, that includes bear crawls.
We are all here to win. No one comes to Texas to be mediocre. But that drive and ambition make it easy to forget that your teammates are people first, people whose happiness and well-being should be as important to you as your own. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference: a text when they’re not feeling well, a movie night when they’re homesick, or apple juice and snacks when they’re confused, overwhelmed freshmen.
Being an athlete at Texas is a unique experience. In a program that’s experienced so much success, it’s tempting to just relax and rely on talent and reputation to win the game. But you learn quickly that that attitude is not accepted around here. Every team plays their best against Texas and it’s your duty as a Longhorn to show up every day and represent yourself, your team, and your school in the best way possible. People look at you differently when you come from here. Wearing that burnt orange jersey is undoubtedly a privilege, but it’s also a lot of responsibility—and being a good leader is just one part of it.
Mirta Baselovic played for the University of Texas women’s volleyball team from 2014 to 2017, making the national semifinals in three of her four years. A native of Split, Croatia, Baselovic is pursuing her masters in Global Policy Studies at UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and will rejoin the volleyball team next fall as a graduate assistant.